The No. 1 seed NC State Wolfpack made clutch shot after clutch shot to force the No. 2 seed UConn Huskies to the withstand double overtime, but Paige Bueckers’ 8-of-9 effort from the field for 23 points after halftime was too much and Christyn Williams made a couple key plays down the stretch to lift the Huskies to a 91-87 victory and the Final Four Monday night at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
With UConn up 89-87 at 10 seconds remaining, Husky senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa was struggling to get the ball in, but found Azzi Fudd with the five seconds winding down. Fudd bobbled the ball but got it over to Evina Westbrook in the left corner and Westbrook found a wide-open Williams in the paint for an easy layup that made it a two-possession game with five seconds to go. That was it.
It was the first game played in the Elite Eight or later to go to double overtime.
Bueckers (game-high 27 points, six rebounds) scored eight-straight UConn points in the first overtime, going 4-of-4 on free throws and making two ice-in-her-veins mid-range shots. She also provided a three to open the second overtime. Williams finished with 21 points and five boards, while Fudd had 19 and five.
Jakia Brown Turner led the Wolfpack with 20 points, including an incredible three form the right corner with 0.3 seconds left in the first overtime, to go along with eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Her teammate, star senior Elissa Cunane posted an 18-point, nine-rebound performance.
Aaliyah Edwards fouled NC State's Kai Crutchfield on a 3-point attempt with 21 seconds left in the first overtime and Crutchfield made 2-of-3 to cut it to one. Bueckers answered with two free throws that made it 77-74 UConn with 6.2 ticks remaining. UConn appeared to be headed to Minneapolis at that point, but Brown-Turner made her shot to force double overtime.
Cunane, who has been the face of the NC State program, heroically backed down for a layup that tied the game with 59 seconds to go in regulation. After that, Nelson-Ododa missed two free throws and Crutchfield missed a three at the buzzer.
Down four with 8:18 to play, UConn received a three from Williams that rattled in after Azzi Fudd tipped the ball to the perimeter after her own miss. A Nika Mühl steal turned Williams layup in transition then gave the Huskies the lead at 53-52. It was back-and-forth from there with Bueckers, Fudd and NC State’s Diamond Johnson all making clutch shots.
With 31 seconds left in the third, Johnson scored her first basket of the game — a 3-pointer that cut NC State’s deficit to 44-43. At the beginning of the fourth, she poked the ball away from Nelson-Ododa and it led to a Jada Boyd layup on the other end that gave the Wolfpack the lead. One minute and eight seconds later, Johnson made it a four-point lead with another three.
NC State scored the first five points of the third, including a 3-point play from Cunane where she was barely able to flip it up through contact. That cut the Wolfpack deficit to one. UConn went back up by five on back-to-back Bueckers mid-range makes bridged together by a Bueckers block on Crutchfield.
The Huskies led by as much as 10 in the second quarter after a 5-0 run by Fudd, but Cunane helped the Wolfpack close the first half strong. She blocked a Williams shot inside and made a layup on the ensuing possession to cut her team’s halftime deficit to 34-28.
UConn forward Dorka Juhasz fell awkwardly on her left wrist and cameras caught her suffering a gruesome injury with 6:19 to go in the second. As she exited the court, the UConn fans and NC State fans stood and clapped for her. Juhasz appeared back on the bench in the third quarter but did not re-enter the game.
UConn built a 25-16 lead by opening the second on a 9-2 run, which began with a Fudd three. After a Juhasz layup made it 21-16 Huskies, NC State threw the ball out of bounds on the ensuing inbound and Mühl scored inside off an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession. An Evina Westbrook layup later, UConn led 25-16.
Williams was hot early, scoring UConn’s first five points, seven of its first nine and nine in the opening quarter. UConn led by as much as five in the first, but a Raina Perez fadeaway three cut it to one with 53 seconds left in the frame. A Fudd free throw made it 16-14 Huskies entering the second.
UConn survived the foul trouble that Edwards and Nelson-Ododa got into, with Nelson-Ododa never fouling out and Edwards only doing so with 32.2 seconds to go. It would have been difficult for UConn to last much longer with another frontcourt player in Juhasz also out.
The Huskies have been to 22 Final Fours, including 14 in a row.